The World Health Organization is working on further recommendations for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox amid fears that the number of cases could increase in the coming months, said a senior UN adviser.
The WHO’s working theory, based on the cases identified so far, is that the outbreak was caused by sexual contact, said David Hayman, chairman of the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential.
On Friday, he chaired a meeting on the outbreak.
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild and endemic in some parts of West and Central Africa.
It is spread by close contact, which means that it can be relatively easily restrained by measures such as self-isolation and hygiene as soon as a new case is detected.
According to scientists, the recent outbreak in countries where it is not endemic is very unusual.
Authorities in Israel and Switzerland have reported their first confirmed case of monkeypox.
Infection has been reported in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, the United States, Canada and Australia.
More than 100 confirmed or suspected cases have been reported, most of them in Europe.
Hayman, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said experts are likely to give more recommendations to countries in the coming days.
Health officials in a number of countries warn that major summer gatherings and festivals in the northern hemisphere could lead to even more cases.
“It seems that what is happening now is that it has entered the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is spreading like sexually transmitted infections, which has increased its transmission around the world,” Heyman said.
He said the WHO meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation.”
The Committee is not a group that would propose to declare a public health emergency of international concern, the highest form of WHO alert currently applicable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, Hayman said an international committee of experts, convened by videoconference, looked at what needed to be studied about the outbreak, and told the public, including whether there is asymptomatic spread, who is most at risk and what different transmission routes are .
He said close contact was key to transmitting the virus because typical lesions are highly infectious.
For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health workers, so some countries have started vaccinating teams that treat monkeypox patients with smallpox vaccines, a related virus.
Many of the current cases have been found in sexual health clinics.
Spanish authorities are investigating whether the parties on the tourist island of Gran Canaria were the source of several monkeypox infections, the daily El Pais reported on Saturday, citing sources in the health sector.
About 80,000 people from Spain and other countries attended the Maspalomas Gay Pride festival, which took place on May 5-15, the newspaper writes.
Men from Madrid, Italy and the neighboring island of Tenerife, who tested positive for the virus, are said to have taken part in the festival.
Early genomic sequencing of several cases in Europe suggested similarities with the strain, which spread to a limited extent in the UK, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heyman said it was “biologically plausible” that the virus has since circulated outside countries where it is endemic, but has not led to serious outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 blocking, removal and travel restrictions.
He stressed that the smallpox outbreak did not resemble the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it is not so easily transmitted.
He said those who suspect they have been exposed or show symptoms, including a typical rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is that you can protect yourself,” he added.
with DPA messages